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Nepal Puts Everest Off Limits for Olympics

March 15, 2008

New York Times
March 15, 2008

NEW DELHI — There are two routes to the world's highest peak and both
are scheduled to be off limits to mountaineers this spring, as Beijing
strives to inaugurate the summer Olympic Games free of pro-Tibetan
protests.

Beijing announced earlier this week that the route to the summit of
Mount Everest along the north face of the mountain, in
Chinese-controlled Tibet, would be closed. Now, Nepal has decided that
at least between May 1 and 10, when China has said it plans to carry
up the Olympic torch, no one will be allowed to scale the summit along
the south face, which is in Nepal.

Nepal's tourism minister, Subba Gurung, confirmed in a telephone
interview on Friday that the Chinese government had appealed to his
administration to help prevent disruptions to the Olympic torch
ceremony.

"Expedition teams will not be allowed to ascend Mount Everest from the
Base Camp," on the Nepali side, he said. "They are requesting us, the
government of Nepal, to be very careful on this side," he said of the
Beijing authorities.

He went on to say that his ministry had also pressed tour operators to
be extra vigilant of teams scheduled to climb the mountain before May
1, allowing only climbers who are known to the operators.

Nepal's decision underscores its vulnerability to pressure from its
large and powerful neighbor to the north, even if it involves
forsaking lucrative earnings from expedition permits.

The tourism industry is among Nepal's most important sources of
revenue, and permits to scale Mount Everest alone brought in $4
million into government coffers last year, a significant amount for
what is one of Asia's poorest countries.

China's plans to have the Olympic torch carried into Tibet over Mount
Everest have drawn protests from groups that advocate greater autonomy
for Tibet, including among monks in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa.

In India, Tibetan exiles were arrested this week as they set off on
foot from Dharamsala, seat of the Tibetan government in exile in the
northern Indian state of Himachal, en route to Lhasa. The march is one
of several international protests related to Chinese rule in Tibet,
and takes place around the anniversary of a failed uprising against
Chinese rule in Tibet in 1959. The protesters have since begun a
hunger strike, vowing to continue until they are released.
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